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Homelessness crisis felt in schools 18/04/17

Homelessness crisis felt in schools

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Press Release

Irish National Teachers’ Organisation

INTO Congress 2017 in Belfast


At the INTO annual Congress in Belfast today, primary teachers slammed the impact of homelessness on primary school pupils. Delegates demanded increased investment in social housing to help tackle the problem.

According to the INTO over 2,500 children are currently homeless in Ireland. In Dublin alone, an estimated 700 primary school pupils are currently homeless. Many thousands more are in danger of being made homeless due, in part, to high rents and the shortage of social housing.

Teachers outlined how the lack of a proper, stable home impacts severely on the ability of children to learn.

Many families are living in single rooms in hotels, often miles from where they were living and attending school when they became homeless. This means that transport costs take a large chunk of the parents’ income and families have to leave their accommodation very early each morning. This often means that they miss breakfast and buy less than healthy food en route which, in turn, affects energy levels and concentration. The chaotic nature of living in emergency accommodation means that sometimes children arrive at school late or don’t arrive at all.

Additionally, over 1,500 Traveller families currently live in overcrowded or unsafe conditions which have a knock-on effect on children’s educational outcomes. 

Alison Connolly of Focus Ireland told the conference of the “grinding misery” of homelessness.

She said there was a growing sense that our society is becoming used to having this problem. “It is becoming part of the background, one of the perennial problems that we complain about but don’t expect to change. Like the weather. So it is important to remember that this problem did not exist just four years ago. At that time there were little more than 130 families homeless in Ireland.

And you as teachers know the reality that living like this in emergency accommodation soon has an impact on children’s education:

  • Coming to school without breakfast or relying on convenience food purchased on route.
  • Coming to school tired, because it’s difficult for an entire family to sleep in a single room.
  • Coming to school in tracksuits/incorrect uniform because the family have no access to washing facilities.
  • Not completing homework because there is nowhere quiet to do so.
  • Behavioural changes in school: lack of attention, more disruptive. Children may be witnessing and dealing with significant stress within their family.

She said there was much in the government’s strategy to applaud and much to admire in “the energy and commitment which Minister Coveney has set about delivering on the strategy”.

But there are serious limitations in Rebuilding Ireland, particularly in relation to how it deals with family homelessness. A commitment has been made that, by the middle of 2017, commercial hotels will not be used to accommodate families, except in exceptional circumstances. We welcomed this commitment when it was announced, as we have seen firsthand just how inappropriate this current accommodation is. However, our support was based on the belief that families would be moved into long-term stable accommodation. The Minister is now announcing new initiatives: family hubs and co-living. While these may be improvements on a single hotel room, they do not come close to replicating what these families need: a home.

“We need bold initiatives, that will undoubtedly be challenged by interest groups, if we hope to impact the structural causes of homelessness. We need to look at direct funding models and penalties, rather than incentives. We also need a much stronger commitment to targeted prevention.”

Proposing the motion, Gregor Kerr from Dublin said we have to battle against becoming immune to the statistics. He said we have to battle against becoming immune to the real personal stories that lie behind the statistics. He told the conference that over 2,500 children are homeless or in emergency accommodation and 1,500 Traveller children are in overcrowded or unsafe conditions.

“Every one of those children is a young person sitting in front of us as teachers.”